Free Bibles!

The classic Gideon Bible…but hey, it looks hip for those college folk.

The ring of the doorbell. The two people standing outside the university commons with boxes of little books beside their feet. The white-shirt and black-tie-clad men walking down the street, official name tags bouncing a rectangle of sunlight off their chests.

Maybe you despise these people with a fiery passion. Maybe you accept their words and gifts with open arms. Whichever opinion you hold, we’ve all been in the presence of Christian missionaries who volunteer to hand out Gideon Bibles and talk about their faith.

You don’t even have to be an official church goer to express your faith to others. That’s everyday evangelism, but those conversations in an everyday setting get a bad rap.

And I’m included with those who often cringe at open dialogue about Jesus despite my own spiritual passion. I cannot handle those who shove beliefs down others’ throats who aren’t interested and didn’t ask for it. I don’t appreciate turning public forums like schools into makeshift churches. That’s not their purpose.

Christianity is too often defined by those outspoken few who either take advantage of diverse settings or use faith as an excuse for hatred and violence. Yes, those two extremes seem like polar opposites, but they each leave us questioning the intentions and integrity of the church. The entire premise of using faith seems backward from how we should view faith and how to draw more people to it.

The word “evangelism,” regardless of its original definition, now leaves a sour taste in my mouth, associating the pushy door-knockers and rioting people outside abortion clinics with what is simply sharing ideas. That’s where the word started, but our human desires have manipulated its meaning to fit our own criteria.

Another problem I have is Christianity’s relationship to other religions. While I don’t think it’s an isolated belief, but when you identify with a certain faith, that doctrine becomes the only way. No other religions will fulfill that same purpose as yours does. If others don’t believe the same as you do, they automatically are at risk once they’re time on earth is up.

Sharing our spiritual beliefs should not fuel the “us vs. them” mentality. We have enough of that already. We should not feel pressured or guilted to believe a certain way over another. We should not feel judged if we politely decline a free Bible or Book of Mormon. 

I am of the personal mentality that somehow, all religions are “correct” if followed with the best intentions. I mean, all of all beliefs stem back to very similar origins. The stories that make up our holy texts came from those of even more ancient religions. Look up Zoroastrianism, and you might be surprised by what  ideas our ancestors believed and how they seem to resonate in religion today.

I think we all are drawn to beliefs for a reason. It’s not pure accident that we feel more at peace with some ideas over others, and even then, we like to tailor basic doctrine to fit our own worldviews. Some people might have more intricate and complex ideas than others, but ultimately, I think we all end up in the same place.

So the real challenge here is how to coexist and love one another despite our apparent differences. It’s in our personal insecurities that we use religion as a defensive weapon to assert beliefs over “wrong ones.” That’s where we see terrorism in the name of a religion that would never condone such violence. That’s where people stand on streets with signs condemning all people who are not white, straight and American. 

How can we change the conversation then? Recent events make that task even more difficult. People now identify as spiritual and not religious to avoid the strict mentalities of church. Many of my friends are agnostic or atheist that are quick to peg down God and religion as illogical, manmade conceptions to divide ourselves and deny academic discoveries. Even though I along with many other religious people believe in evolution and science.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that we, in our own ways, connect to spirituality, and that we can engage in open dialogue that encourages new ideas and welcomes anybody to the table. If someone is meant to join a certain labeled doctrine, then they will find their path there; you cannot force it in their face and expect results.

We need more understanding, more compassion, more silence allowing us to truly listen to others. Isn’t that what religion teaches us? To cherish universal morals and values, to connect with others regardless of their denomination? 

We’re all in the same boat. We’re organisms living on the same planet in the same moment in time simply going about our brief existences however we see best fits. Let us use our time and energy to share love. That doesn’t mean we have to gather around a bonfire to sing songs and hold hands. At least not without hand sanitizer. 

But since faith (or lack thereof) is simultaneously a touchy subject that largely impacts our perspectives, we need to learn how to approach it and how to accept others regardless of their relationship with faith. We’re all in different stages and places, and that’s okay. When simply communicating with others outside a public, professional sphere, we should explore how religion could make its way in discussion. It’s how we can learn more, become more welcoming than defensive. 

If you’re in the situation where you are in a moral dilemma to open the door or take the free Bible, don’t let that decision color your entire view of religion and evangelism. Religion is an essential component of humanity. How it waxes and wanes in today’s society is a constant evolution (ha), but we shouldn’t immediately write it off. It does have a place. The more we welcome and understand diversity in spirituality, the closer we can get to becoming people who truly embody “loving thy neighbor.”

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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Autumn Afternoons

Photography is not a pastime I generally partake in, especially when going about my day full of classes and activities. When traveling to new locations, I feel that sense of wonder at the simplest of sights, even when a similar sight is prevalent at home. But when I’m busy in the hustle of an average college student’s week, I’m moving and thinking at a pace that overlooks my familiar surroundings.

But what happens when we adjust our perspective of the mundane, average setting we’ve grown accustomed to, and admired it as if we ourselves are tourists? The changing of seasons seems like quite an appropriate time to try this out.

Although it was an assignment for class to take some photos, I stepped outside the classroom and immediately saw inspiration. Despite my university’s ongoing homecoming week (which, my lack of school spirit has no opinion about), a decent opportunity to capture some shots, I immediately pulled out my phone and went to work. I’m sure most of the students walking past to their afternoon classes were puzzled by me, standing in the middle of the sidewalk or in a patch of grass in the parking lot on a cloudy September day.

I’ve truly grown to love this time of year. I used to be much more of a spring person, but autumn and winter have become my go-to. But the seasons in the year that embody transition come with a newly found sense of transition within ourselves. We are of equal beauty as the trees and animals we pass every day, and we too experience the cycle of life and death inevitable for living organisms.

When we see trees becoming bare and weather forecasts becoming dreary, it’s easy to feel death inside ourselves. Sadness in what feels like an end. We can go from this angle and be downright miserable about summer ending and falling into a pit of bitterness over what is unavoidable.

We go through these emotions ourselves on a regular basis. Maybe we’re working on projects and trying to accomplish goals, but once we finish those, we lose a sense of purpose. We might grow distant from people we held dearly months earlier. The key word here is loss: focusing on death and ending and wanting nothing more than to reverse time to relive what has gone.

Yes, this is an option. But really, what is death is simply a chance for regrowth. For new moments to blossom. For new connections to kindle. Death is the antithesis is life, but one could not coexist without the other. So we might as well embrace it, celebrate it even. Take autumn for example. You can’t go swimming or sunbathing for another year, but can we talk about how wonderful warm beverages feel and taste, wrapping your hands around a toasty mug and feeling the steam bathe your face in coziness? Or snuggling up in a blanket with a good book in hand while a rainstorm brews outside? Or finally pulling out your flannels and sweaters, and thinking about the holidays just around the bend?

Obviously I get pumped up, but I think this mentality and excitement for life should apply to anything. We are in a constant cycle of certain things coming and going. With the end of one thing, inevitably a new experience is bound to takes it place. Or what feels like an eon since talking to someone or doing something can return out of the blue and seem like no time passed at all. That’s the beauty of nature, of life.

I hope you take inspiration from these words and my photos below to find peace and joy in the coming autumn and in whatever life is currently bringing and removing. There is a time and purpose for everything. We can choose to welcome that reality or reject it. But what might seem downright dreadful right now could turn into the greatest blessing. Hold onto that.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Fear Setting

Verbal to Visual has provided a helpful image to illustrate this TED Talk.

 

Seems like a backwards concept, right? Why would we want to amplify our anxieties when we could focus on our goals, our successes?

Tim Ferriss speaks of the value of better understanding our lowpoints in his TED Talk. As he lives with bipolar depression and has found himself many times on the edge of darkness and suicide, his insight is worth a listen.

So what do I mean by “fear setting”? Well, we all know about goal-setting, a practice even I’ve probably talked your ear off about. It’s most effective to physically write out what you hope to achieve for yourself so you can keep those thoughts at the forefront. You can then better align your daily actions with those goals and make them that much more tangible.

Yes, you’ve heard that one a few or plenty of times from me. But what about fear setting? Mental illness or not, we’ve had points of hesitation, of self-doubt. If an opportunity arises, we fear its implications and might automatically push it aside. This could be anything from accepting a new job, going out to a social event, or even just taking a break for yourself when you feel overwhelmed with work.

The first step is to make three columns. The first list, write out every fear you have associated with a particular situation. For example, if that’s going on a vacation to get away from a hectic schedule, you might fear the unknown of what could go wrong on the trip, or you fear getting so far behind in your work that you risk failure.

Now you list what you could do to prevent these fears from happening. In this case, you could research ahead of time your travel plans and prepare accordingly, and you could let others know of your plans and work ahead to get major assignments out of the way before you go.

Inevitably, there are some things you can’t control. Life is unpredictable, and no matter how much you plan and prepare, things can fall through. The third column then is listing how to repair the damages if your fears were to happen. So maybe your luggage is lost or a flight canceled. You can always readjust your schedule and make do with what you have. If something arises with your work or schooling, talk with those involved and work something out. Either way, no matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world. Admittedly, that’s easier said than believed.

But here’s another thought to think and write about. What would happen six months, a year, even three years down the road if you did not choose to partake in these opportunities? If you let your fears get the best of you, what effects will that have? If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be working your tail off until you implode. You’ll fall into unhealthy, harmful behaviors, relying upon stimulants to get you through the day. You’ll regret not giving yourself some relief. You might find that you had less work to do than you realized, and then fall into depression for overthinking it all. Which, trust me, I’ve been through this pattern too many times to count.

Self-awareness and reflection is so powerful. Being able to look objectively at even a snapshot of our racing thoughts really can change your perspective. When we allow those thoughts to just continue buzzing through without questioning them, they can truly run our lives. They can isolate us into what we see as safe, comfortable status quos that, in reality, hold us back from truly living.

A single list probably won’t change your life. If you have specific fears, you probably will continue facing those even after listing and rationalizing them. But at least you’re becoming an active voice above your anxiety. You’re not entirely allowing it control. You’re making progress in the right direction. Hopefully you’ll realize your mental strength is far greater than you ever imagined.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie